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Need for COVID-19 vaccine passports must be demonstrated, says B.C. privacy commissioner

Last Updated May 20, 2021 at 3:44 pm PDT

Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Summary

B.C.'s privacy commissioner says there could be value in having documentation proving COVID-19 vaccination

Michael McEvoy has concerns about how vaccine passports might be used or asked for

McEvoy wants safeguards in place for vaccine passports

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Proof of COVID-19 vaccination through some kind of passport or certificate could be an important part of a true re-opening and a return to large scale events, but B.C.’s privacy commissioner wants certain safeguards in place.

Michael McEvoy says there could be value in having these sorts of documents.

“Vaccine passports could be a very good thing. It’s simply a means of authenticating, indicating whether somebody has been vaccinated,” he said. “The issue though, becomes how those passports, as they’re often called, might be used and where they might be demanded or asked for. That is, I think, a matter of some concern. We should be concerned about it.”

McEvoy says there can be legitimate reasons why someone may need to prove they have been vaccinated.

“What we need to make sure is that that’s properly authorized and that those passports are not being used to track somebody. And if a private business wants to use a vaccine passport or needs to get vaccination information about somebody, you’re obviously turning over very sensitive personal information about yourself,” he said.

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A recent poll suggested a majority of British Columbians support the idea of a vaccine passport for international travel, despite some ethical concerns and despite the federal government saying it was not considering bringing such a record in.

McEvoy explains there’s a balance whenever we ask people to give personal information in exchange for a service.

“The watchword here is caution,” McEvoy said. “Vaccine passports and ways of indicating whether you’ve been vaccinated could be a very good thing where they’re needed or necessary, but only used in those circumstances.”

Privacy commissioners aren’t endorsing or arguing against vaccine passports, but want certain safeguards in place if they are brought in to protect our rights.

A joint statement issued Wednesday by federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners says “vaccine passports” must comply with applicable privacy laws and incorporate best practices.

They recommend conditions including clear legal authority for introducing use of vaccine passports for each intended purpose. Such legal authority might come from a new law, an existing statute or a public health order.

With files from Tim James, Hana Mae Nassar, Lasia Kretzel and Yasmin Gandham